Young people with disabilities have a great deal to gain from relationships with mentors who have the ability to guide them.
Young people with disabilities have a great deal to gain from relationships with mentors who have the ability to guide them along paths towards independence and full-participation in their communities.
Adults with disabilities, who have grown up to become successful leaders within the community, are a perfect resource for younger persons with disabilities. Mentors with disabilities can demonstrate by their own example what is possible, assisting younger people to both define and achieve success in their own lives.
Mentoring is a practice that has been recognized for centuries as being a fairly simple and effective way to help young people develop knowledge, skills, motivation, and confidence. The 1980's in America found mentoring programs for at-risk youth arising throughout the nation, yet the majority of them neither targeted nor served a highly-important portion of young people - youth with disabilities. Mentoring of young people with disabilities is becoming an important effort in America.
The mentoring movement in relation to youth with disabilities started in 1983, when Boston social worker Regina Snowden became aware of the need for quality programming for the young people with disabilities show worked for. She realized there was no better role model for a young person with a disability than an adult who experiences a form of disability. Regina began, 'Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD). Nearly twenty years later, many of the original mentors and mentees remain in contact with one another. By the year 2004, Regina's pilot mentoring program had grown to serve greater than six-hundred young people each year in one-to-one, group, as well as e-mentoring programs. Disability service providers elsewhere found out what Regina and PYD were doing, learned of their success, and before long they were asking for assistance and advice about beginning their own disability mentoring programs.
The federal government also began focusing on mentoring young people with disabilities, and in 1999 the White House held its first National Disability Mentoring Day. The government's National Disability Mentoring Day was patterned after school-to-work activities with the intention of increasing the profile of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. The American Association of People with Disabilities, working with the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Labor, took over the administration of National Disability Mentoring Day in 2001. They built a program that serves one-thousand five-hundred youths from thirty-two states in the year 2001, to a program that serves more than eight-thousand students and job seekers from every state and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico - as well as fourteen additional countries, by the year 2003. Due to international involvement, the AAPD dropped the word, 'National,' from the title of the program in 2003. The program today recruits mentors from employers, including activities such as hands-on career exploration and job shadowing for job seekers with disabilities.
The year 2003 also found a number of nonprofit groups and federal agencies expanding the mentoring of youth with disabilities movement. The U.S. Department of Labor and the Office of Disability Employment Policy created an, 'Intermediary Grants for Mentoring Youth with Disabilities Initiative,' during the year. They issued grant funding to disability service providers throughout America, assisting them to begin mentoring programs that helped youth with disabilities to transition into post-secondary education and employment.
The Rehabilitation Services Administration, in this same year, noted the importance of mentoring young people with disabilities in its Autumn 2003 magazine, and made grant funding available to various entities so they could begin model mentoring demonstration projects. The potential outcomes and benefits of mentoring young people with disabilities include increased:
The one-to-one, community-based model of mentoring youth with disabilities involves matching a young person with an adult volunteer from the community. The mentor and mentee communicate through face-to-face meetings, phone conversations, letters, and emails. The majority of activities take place in the community, outside of work, or at school. Staff members in the program ask mentor/mentee pairs to communicate with each other a specific number of times each week or month, as well as to remain matched for a particular amount of time. The matches are many times focus on building both social skills and relationships, although some of them have a focus on career or academics too.
The one-on-one employer-based model involves matching a young person with a disability with an employee-mentor through either a community organization or a school. The mentor and mentee communicate largely through face-to-face meeting, although they may have some contact through the telephone or email. Their activities together take place at the mentee's school, or at the employee's place of business. The mentor and mentee have an employment-related focus, pursuing activities such as job shadowing, resume writing and interviewing skills-building, or internships.
The group mentoring model involves a number of adult volunteers and young people with disabilities in a group setting; the group sizes may be small or large. The mentors communicate with the mentees through face-to-face contact and potentially through Internet chat rooms. The mentoring activities may take place at a business, community organization, or school. The focus of the activities can include academics, careers, employment, independent living, or social skills. A number of the programs combine these activities. Group mentoring, like other mentoring opportunities, finds both mentors and mentees benefiting from their mutual interactions, with one-on-one matching at times resulting from group interactions.
Young people with disabilities who participate in mentoring programs often have better school attendance and attitudes towards school, community, and family. They are less likely to begin using drugs or alcohol, or to hit someone, and have improved feelings of competence concerning their ability to do well in school. Many experience more positive relationships with their family members and friends.